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Human the Death Dance by Sage Francis

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Reviewed on 3rd July 2007.


Human the Death Dance

By Sage Francis

There was a bang-on recent summary of the average product lifespan of your typical mainstream band that I'll attribute to Dave Simpson from The Guardian. Your first album is brimming with ideas and has that fresh style, you've made it. Second album is more of the same; though you haven't progressed at all, sales remain strong. A backlash is building and by the time your third album comes along you're all washed up. Next!

So for longevity's sake maybe it pays to stay underground right? Probably, but as Francis himself espoused back on 2003's Non Prophets album 'Hope', "A mill would be ill!". After signing to traditionally punk rock label Epitaph for his last album 'A Healthy Distrust', Francis seems to be looking to step it up a gear. Well at least it terms of units sold anyway. His lyrics on 'Undergound For Dummies' are telling, "Underground and mainstream/ Some are bound to change teams". Apparently some of these tracks will also be appearing on the soundtrack to upcoming Edward Norton / Colin Farrell film Pride And Glory.

For me however, most of the fun and enjoyment of his earlier music seems to have been swallowed up by his inflated sense of his own self-importance. To be fair to Francis it isn't a lack of progression that's turned me off, he is at least concerned with pushing his own limitations. What he has lost, compared to the earlier releases, is the ability to build songs that function cohesively, something more than just a collection of randomly assembled beats and samples with his lyrics on top. As such it's less of a hip hop album and more of a spoken word performance where there happens to be some (Endtroducing-lite) music in the background.

On his MySpace blog, Francis provides fans with a personal track-by-track rundown on the lyrics for the new album. Clearly the considered lyrics are his focus; his lines are generally well constructed and he is an effective storyteller. But, taking 'High Step' as an example, the depth that's flaunted by Epitaph ("He's the best lyricist of his generation") is not particularly in evidence here. Anyone who's watched an entire NFL game will be aware of the constant shadowy presence of religion within the sport. Francis' general point is "how people are encouraged to submit to authority" but the way he sets it out is uninspired and the broad swipe of his metaphor seems to undermine his focus (as his blog notes "You don't need to have a background in sports to understand what it's all about").

If I'm being over-critical here it's probably because there's a gaping opportunity for an intelligent, left-leaning, politically-aware rapper who relates to and operates within the guitar scene. Francis has already demonstrated that he has all of the credentials. The default theme in mainstream hip hop (take Clipse for example) is still living and loving the money-hungry thug lifestyle; misogyny is a must, drug dealing is smarter than a desk job, vendettas bubble with the frequent pledges to violence. What someone like Kanye West seems to appreciate is that it's not just the message that people are buying in to; it's the standout choruses, the hooks, the breaks. Sage Francis needs to spend more time away from the library and realise that it's not just a battle to the smartest line that wins the contest any more.



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On 6th July 2007 at 15:50 Anonymous 4206 wrote...

erm..I would hardly describe Alias production on this record as "a collection of randomly assembled beats and samples with his lyrics on top". Perhaps Sage wants to stand up on his own, rather than being the 'conscious rapper for indie kids' that you want him to be? He is a slam poet, first and foremost.

Also, you blatantly misunderstand Clipse - their flow is astounding,and those Neptunes beats are the best they've done since, well, the first Clipse album. I'm glad you enjoy Kanye. Perhaps hip hop isn't for you.


On 6th July 2007 at 18:10 Anonymous 3919 wrote...

Hi Nation. You might be right that I try to pigeonhole Sage Francis as something that he's not attempting to be. That's probably fair criticism, I don't know too much about slam poetry but I am a hip hop fan. He is releasing on a predominantly indie label and as such I'm sure he and his promotional team are aware of the crossover potential.

As for Clipse, I think you misunderstand what I'm trying to say. I'd much rather be listening to Hell Hath No Fury than Human The Death Dance. What you took as a value judgement of Clipse was instead meant to demonstrate how Sage Francis was pushing against the grain. I'm not certain that there are still shared characteristics within mainstream hip hop but my feeling is that there is a common perception of hip hop from outside (ill-conceived or not), and that's what it is. I don't listen to Kanye West apart from what I've picked up from the radio and various video channels.

I may be in the minority. His album seems to have been well received in the main. But if you read an overview site like metacritic.com or amazon.com you'll see some other dissenting voices. Maybe the album would have had better balance if he'd had Alias beats for every track rather than only three out of sixteen.



On 7th July 2007 at 17:54 Anonymous 4206 wrote...

Fair play Nick -I have read dissenting reviews of this album in other places but I thought 2.5 out of five was a bit harsh! I do agree that Alias should have procused it all, though.

I understand the points you were trying to make better now, but it's not very clear at all from the original article. For example, it's fairly difficult to pick up on how you've contextualised Clipse, and particularly unclear regarding how Kanye fits in to the picture you're creating.

Thanks for the fair reply, I feel I should have been fairer to you, but like I say, I couldn't pick up on your intentions from the original review. Peace.


On 11th July 2007 at 14:48 Anonymous 3919 wrote...

Just to clarify - what I'm saying is that I think Kanye West is quite a canny operator.

Though I'm not really too interested in Kanye's music, I do think it's smart how he builds his tracks with accessible choruses to widen their appeal, yet still explores issues and themes that are important. As he says in a quote ripped from Wikipedia, "I throw up historical subjects in a way that makes kids want to learn about them". Whether Sage Francis actually wants to achieve that is another matter I guess, but I'd hope he would be interested in entertaining his audience rather than just impressing them, even if he's not as concerned about shifting units.

This is beginning to resemble a cutdown version of Cliff Notes. I don't suppose you're really meant to write them yourself though!



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